Exploring Innovative Solutions to Reduce the Department of the Interior’s Maintenance Backlog

Stephen Guertin




March 6, 2018

Chairman Bishop, Ranking Member Grijalva, and members of the Committee, thank you for the

opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s (Department) views on potential solutions

to reducing the deferred maintenance backlog of the Department of the Interior. Representing

the Department at today’s hearing are P. Daniel Smith, Deputy Director of the National Park

Service, and Steve Guertin, Deputy Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Since Secretary Zinke’s confirmation, tackling the Department’s deferred maintenance backlog

has been one of his top priorities. The Department manages roughly 500 million acres of land

and possesses an infrastructure asset portfolio valued at over $300 billion. Roads, bridges, trails,

water systems, visitor centers, and student dorms -- even bathrooms, campgrounds, and drinking

fountains -- are all part of this critical, but often unnoticed, framework. After years of increased

visitation and use, aging facilities and other vital structures are in urgent need of restoration.

The Department has a total of about $16 billion worth of deferred maintenance. Of that amount,

the National Park Service (NPS) has the largest share -- $11.6 billion in 2017.

Here are just a few examples of needed repairs in our nation’s national parks. Glacier National

Park, one of the NPS’s crown jewels, is home to the headwaters for streams that flow to the

Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and Hudson’s Bay. This popular Montana park has more than

$154 million in maintenance needs alone, including projects to repair bridges and culverts, roads,

and employee housing.

In California, Point Reyes National Seashore is home to majestic marine mammals and multigenerational

beef and dairy ranches. The park has roughly $99 million dollars in deferred

maintenance, including single projects that include the historic Platform Bridge. This bridge,

built in 1927, carried both people and automotive traffic, but due to the lack of ongoing

necessary rehabilitation work, $1.6 million is needed for this project alone.

Roads and other transportation assets account for $5.9 billion – about half -- of the NPS deferred

maintenance backlog. The NPS maintains over 5,500 miles of paved roads, including historic

routes such as the Blue Ridge Parkway, Natchez Trace Parkway, and Skyline Drive in

Shenandoah National Park. Congress provides for a significant portion of transportation

maintenance and repair through the Department of Transportation, primarily through the Federal

Lands Transportation Program, which includes$292 million for NPS projects in FY 2019 alone.

Additional funding for maintaining transportation assets is provided through NPS operations and

construction appropriations.

Just like some of its other more famous parkway sites, Colonial Parkway in Tidewater Virginia

was designed in the 1930s to provide a scenic, pleasurable driving experience between historic Jamestown, Yorktown, and Williamsburg. Today, the parkway is an important commuter route

with the busiest sections carrying between 1.9 million and 2.2 million vehicles per year. In

addition, large tour buses use the route, adding weight and capacity that was not envisioned

when it was designed. The total cost to repair the parkway is $270 million.

Known for its scenic views and vibrant autumns, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

welcomes millions of visitors each year. The park has $215 million in deferred maintenance

needs. A key destination for park visitors, Sugarlands Visitor Center houses exhibits on wildlife,

geology, and history, and is in need of total reconstruction that will cost roughly $25 million.

The park is also well known for its historic buildings -- from churches, barns, and smokehouses

to a working grist mill--but many of them need rehabilitation to ensure they remain safe and

welcoming destinations.

Appropriated funds are currently the primary source of funding for deferred maintenance.

However, we know that we cannot rely on appropriated dollars alone to address this problem, so

we are looking at multiple avenues for making additional funds available through other means.

For example, the Department’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget proposes to permanently reauthorize the

Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA), which expires in September 2019. As a

precaution, the budget also proposes appropriations language to provide a two-year extension of

FLREA through September 2021. The revenues collected from these recreation fees across

several DOI bureaus —$318.8 million in 2017—are an important source of funding for land

management operations, maintenance, and improvements to recreation facilities on public lands.

Most importantly, we are looking at a new proposal to raise funds for this purpose by dedicating

a portion of Federal energy revenues to address this problem. The proposed Public Lands

Infrastructure Fund (Fund) outlined in the President’s 2019 budget would address repairs and

improvement in national parks, national wildlife refuges, and Bureau of Indian Education (BIE)

schools. The Administration’s proposal would set aside for infrastructure needs a portion of

unallocated Federal energy revenues exceeding FY 2018 Budget baseline projections. These

receipts would be derived from Federal energy revenues, including mineral leasing, e.g., oil, gas

and coal, under the Mineral Leasing Act and Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, as well as solar,

wind, and geothermal development. While the budget estimate assumes this initiative would

result in $6.8 billion in expenditures from the Fund over 10 years, the proposal allows for as

much as $18 billion to be available through this legislation. The Department would distribute

funds using established criteria, such as consideration of asset condition and mission criticality,

and would measure and report on agency-wide progress. This bold investment would

significantly improve the Nation’s most visible and visited public facilities that support a

multibillion dollar outdoor recreation economy.

While the NPS is the focus of this proposal, the Fund would also be used for deferred

maintenance at Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools and national wildlife refuges. The

Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs and its bureaus have maintenance responsibilities for over

169 elementary and secondary schools and 14 dormitories which service nearly 47,000 students.

The estimated deferred maintenance backlog for BIE schools is $634 million, which does not

include the cost for school replacement projects. Major projects to address deferred maintenance are reviewed by the Indian Affairs Construction Investment Review Board and are prioritized as

part of the Five-Year Deferred Maintenance and Construction plan.

Schools that could potentially benefit from these investments would include the BIE operated

Cheyenne Eagle Butte School, which is one of the largest schools serving Indian tribes in South

Dakota. The school promotes academic achievement along with traditional Lakota cultural,

language, and extracurricular activities in two of the poorest counties in the state and nation.

Cheyenne Eagle Butte is in urgent need of a variety of repairs, especially structural. For

example, classrooms have been closed due to the presence of dangerous mold, numerous roof

leaks allow water to seep through three floors of classrooms, and repetitive heating system

failures have caused two weeks of lost instruction during the current academic

year. Kindergarten students alone have been displaced from their regular classrooms for three


Deferred maintenance issues are not unique to Cheyenne Eagle Butte School. As reported in a

2016 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, the Department’s ability to adequately

address maintenance issues have been inhibited, even for those schools which pose great risk to

the health and safety of students. Highlighted in the same GAO report is a frightening example

where seven of a school’s eleven boilers failed inspection due to natural gas leaks and elevated

carbon monoxide levels. The boilers were in such bad condition that the school was evacuated

for approximately two weeks to conduct emergency repairs. Overall, the Department, the

Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the BIE are working closely to address outstanding GAO

recommendations and improve operations and service delivery in BIE-funded schools.

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) manages 566 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland

management areas and operates national fish hatcheries, fish technology centers and fish health

centers. FWS is responsible for over $46 billion in constructed real property assets that include

over 25,000 structures (e.g., buildings and water management structures) as well as nearly

14,000 roads, bridges, and dams. The estimated deferred maintenance backlog for FWS

facilities is $1.4 billion.

National wildlife refuges are a hub for outdoor recreation and conservation and are valued

destinations for local residents as well as vacationers. Every state and territory has wildlife

refuges, and over 50 million people visit FWS refuges and hatcheries each year. They are places

where families go on a weekend day to spend quality time outdoors, through activities such as

hunting, fishing and birding. FWS lands generate over $2 billion for local economies and

support tens of thousands of private-sector jobs. Examples of refuges that could benefit from the

Fund include Big Oaks refuge in Indiana and Wallkill River refuge in New York and New

Jersey. Big Oaks is home to more than 200 species of birds and 46 species of mammals, and the

refuge has been designated as a “Globally Important Bird Area” because of its value to migratory

birds. However, public access to Big Oaks is impaired because a deteriorated, unsafe bridge

with trees growing through it on the refuge has been closed since 2001. Wallkill River refuge has

many grassland birds, migrating waterfowl, wintering raptors, and endangered species. Public

access to this refuge is also significantly reduced because its Papakating Valley Rail Trail has

been closed since 2010 due to extensive, dangerous degradation. Rehabilitating it will expand

9.5 miles of former railroad beds into multi-purpose public trails.

Another way Congress can help reduce the FWS’s maintenance backlog—in addition to enacting

the proposed Fund —is to enact the Administration’s 2019 Budget legislative proposal to

provide FWS with authority to seek compensation from responsible parties who injure or destroy

national wildlife refuges or other FWS resources. This new authority would be similar to that of

the NPS and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Under current law, when

FWS resources are injured or destroyed, the costs of repair and restoration must be addressed

through appropriations and are added to the FWS’s maintenance backlog. These damages are

not uncommon. Each year vandalism, trespassing, and other violations damage FWS assets.

One example is a case of illegally created roads through Sequoyah refuge, Oklahoma, causing

over $175,000 in estimated damages; another is a trespass and illegal excavation of a pipeline at

San Bernard refuge, Texas, with estimated response and repair costs of $7.5 million.

As Secretary Zinke said when announcing the 2019 budget, “President Trump is absolutely right

to call for a robust infrastructure plan that rebuilds our national parks, refuges, and Indian

schools, and I look forward to helping him deliver on that historic mission. Our parks and

refuges are being loved to death, but the real heart break is the condition of the schools in Indian

Country. We can and must do better for these young scholars. This is not a Republican or

Democrat issue, this is an American issue, and the President and I are ready to work with

absolutely anyone in Congress who is willing to get the work done.” Whether it is our national

parks, national wildlife refuges, or BIE schools, we have a responsibility to be good stewards of

the land and resources we manage. The Department’s needs span all the way from

Massachusetts to Alaska to Guam. We greatly appreciate the effort of this Committee and your

colleagues in Congress who have sought to craft real solutions to our maintenance backlog. We

look forward to continuing those efforts by working with each of you in a collaborative manner

that preserves and maintains our national treasures.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes the Department’s statement. We would be pleased to answer any

questions you or other members of the Committee may have.

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